What is Generalised Anxiety Disorder?: Symptoms, Causes and Treatments of GAD and Severe Anxiousness

Most people experience anxiety from time to time; it is not uncommon. Situations such as preparing for a job interview, taking a driving test, sitting an exam or having a medical procedure, can all induce unpleasant feelings of worry and fear. However, for some people, anxiety is so severe it becomes difficult for them to cope with.

People who suffer from acute anxiety may have a type of anxiety disorder known as generalised anxiety disorder, or GAD.

What are the Symptoms of Generalised Anxiety Disorder?

Rather than feeling anxious about a particular event or situation, people with generalised anxiety disorder feel anxious much of the time, in numerous situations at home and during working hours. Their anxiety often interferes with normal day to day life, and does not seem to go away.

Symptoms of generalised anxiety disorder can be physical or psychological. A combination of the following symptoms of anxiety may be experienced:

  • Psychological Symptoms – Irritability, feelings of dread, edginess, restlessness, difficulty relaxing, difficulty concentrating, easily distracted, impatience, fear of going mad, feeling of losing control, feeling detached from the rest of the world.
  • Physical Symptoms – Tiredness, trouble sleeping, muscle aches and pains, headaches, rapid heartbeat, breathlessness, chest pain, shaking, sweating, dizziness, diarrhoea, irregular menstrual cycle, stomach discomfort, dry mouth, thirst, difficulty swallowing, pins and needles, frequent need to urinate.

Causes of Generalised Anxiety Disorder

It is often unclear what causes a person with generalised anxiety disorder to feel anxious, as there does not appear to be a specific trigger for the anxiety. It is possible that GAD has a combination of biological and environmental causes. Some factors associated with GAD include:

  • Mental Health – GAD sometimes occurs in people who have phobias, or other mental health problems such as depression and schizophrenia.
  • Family Influences – Many sufferers of generalised anxiety disorder have a sibling or parent suffering from anxiety problems. This indicates there may be a genetic component to anxiety, or it may be ‘learned’ from the family environment.
  • Stressful Events – Stressful life events such as bereavement, divorce, job loss or a serious illness may trigger anxiety which persists long after the event in question is over.
  • Physical Health – Severe anxiety could have a physical cause, such as an overactive thyroid gland.
  • Chemical Imbalances – An imbalance of chemicals in the brain, particularly the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine, may cause anxiety.

Treatments for Generalised Anxiety Disorder

A medical doctor will determine the most appropriate treatment for a sufferer of generalised anxiety disorder, and this will depend on the patient’s individual circumstances. Treatment for GAD can be in the form of psychological treatment, drug treatment or a combination of the two types of treatment.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a psychological treatment found to be effective in helping people to overcome their anxiety problems. A cognitive behavioural therapist helps the patient to identify the negative thoughts and beliefs which are causing the anxiety. The aim is then to change the negative thoughts into positive ones. So instead of having a negative response to a situation that would normally cause anxiety, the patient learns to react positively.

Other psychological treatments for anxiety that may be of benefit include anxiety support groups, counselling and self-help methods.

Drug treatments for GAD may include:

  • Benzodiazepines – Benzodiazepines are sedatives which work quickly to reduce symptoms of severe anxiety.
  • Antihistamines – Antihistamines have a calming influence on the brain and help to reduce feelings of anxiety.
  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) – SSRIs are antidepressants which increase levels of serotonin in the brain.
  • Buspirone – Buspirone is an anxiolytic which affects levels of serotonin in the brain, and reduces the psychological symptoms of anxiety.
  • Beta Blockers – Beta blockers reduce physical symptoms of anxiety by blocking the chemicals that cause the symptoms.

Anxiety is a normal part of every day life and the symptoms are not medically dangerous. However, if a person is constantly anxious and has difficulty managing the symptoms, then treatment for generalised anxiety disorder may be appropriate and beneficial.

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